Flawed 'The Journey' imagines the end of the Northern Ireland Troubles
Posted July 9
“THE JOURNEY” — 2½ stars — Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, John Hurt, Freddie Highmore, Toby Stephens; PG-13 (thematic elements including violent images and language); in general release
“The Journey” is one of those movies that is more interesting than it is good. It’s a little heavy on exposition, and drags a bit as it goes along, but director Nick Hamm's effort makes for a thoughtful take on a pivotal moment in recent history.
Hamm’s film is the story of the reconciliation that ended the Troubles in 2006. According to “The Journey,” 40 years of bitter fighting in Northern Ireland came down to two old men in a Mercedes transit van. Where other movies use words like “based on” and “inspired by” to connect their subjects to reality, “The Journey” says it “imagines” its subject, so audiences should take the proceedings with a heavy dose of salt.
Timothy Spall plays the Rev. Ian Paisley, the stodgy and fiery leader of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, and mortal enemy of Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney) — as McGuinness puts it — “the acceptable public face” of the Irish Republican Army. Paisley and McGuinness have begrudgingly come together at a neutral site in Scotland to negotiate peace.
The trouble with ending the Troubles is that Paisley isn’t quite on board. So when he tries to duck away to Belfast to attend his 50th wedding anniversary celebration, McGuinness uses a protocol loophole to tag along on his ride to the airport, hoping to break the ice on the peace talks.
Prime Minister Tony Blair (Toby Stephens) and his MI5 counterpart Harry Patterson (John Hurt) are hoping McGuinness can get things moving in the right direction, going so far as to plant an undercover agent named Jack (Freddie Highmore) as their driver.
What ensues is an odd political road trip movie, as Jack manipulates the route and — as much as possible — the conversation in order to facilitate negotiation before Paisley can fly out of town. It’s an interesting premise, though one that, like the recent “Churchill,” has a way of setting the more entertaining action aside in favor of an exclusive window on backroom politics.
The core conflict is between a character associated with terrorism who, determined to bring an end to a battle he feels his side cannot win, must engage a reluctant political firebrand so steeped in his convictions he has a Bible verse ready to address any predicament.
Spall and Meaney throw themselves into their characters, though Meaney’s appealing personality almost seems a little soft for a supposed reformed radical. Spall seems to enjoy channeling Paisley’s elitist stuffiness, but occasionally betrays true humanity as the predicament slowly brings the opponents together.
“The Journey” falls short in its labored, if understandable, effort to explain the context of the situation, assuming that its audience has heard of the Troubles, but may not know the names of the parties involved. Hurt’s occasional dialogue — pumped through Jack’s earpiece as directions to his covert agent — feels like a melodramatic commentary that, along with the exposition, might have been more effective if Hamm had focused more on showing than telling.
The back and forth of the negotiations, combined with the repeated intentional and unintentional delays of the actual drive, begin to feel a little labored, even in the film’s comparatively short 94-minute run time. Fans of the former prime minister may also not appreciate his portrayal here, which paints the politician as a bit feeble.
Overall, “The Journey” is watchable but not dazzling, an interesting if not totally engaging chapter in what feels like a much larger story.
“The Journey” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including violent images and language; running time: 94 minutes.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who also teaches English composition for Weber State University. You can also find him on <a href='https://www.youtube.com/moviereviewsbyjosh' target='_blank'>YouTube</a>.